Dr William Hirstein
The Big Question:
“Shooting Rampages – is it really a mental health issue? And what can we do?”
One way to approach the issue is to ask, Which is easier to deal with, our proliferation of guns or our mental health issues? There are plenty of examples of countries that have dealt with their gun problems, and that have less than 100 handgun murders per year. We have by far the largest number of handgun murders among developed nations, but we do not have vastly more mental health problems than other similar nations.
Another root of the problem here is that our traditional approach to social problems is to attack them with force, e.g., to declare “war” on them. The war on drugs has been a financial and social disaster and has been a large contributor to our position of having by far the highest incarceration rate of any nation. Similarly, waiting until someone commits a gun crime, then punishing them harshly is not working. We need to get better at dealing with problems in their early phases. So for instance, ensuring proper postnatal care and nutrition could go a long way toward dealing with both the crime and the mental health problems. Similarly, making drug treatment an option instead of a long prison sentence would help to deal with the mental health problem. We have to begin exploring options other than force and punishment.